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People laid down white flowers outside of the STEM Complex building to pay respect to the victims following the vigil. Photo: Aaron Hemens/Fulcrum
People laid down white flowers outside of the STEM Complex to pay respect to the victims following the vigil. Photo: Aaron Hemens/Fulcrum

U of O one of 14 schools across Canada to shine a beam of light into the sky to honour 14 women killed

Hundreds gathered at the courtyard outside of the University of Ottawa’s STEM Complex on the evening of Dec. 6 to pay tribute to the 14 women who were killed by a lone gunman at Montreal’s École Polytechnique 30 years ago that day.

On a day that is now recognized as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women in Canada, many in attendance wore white ribbons, gripped candles and laid down white flowers to show solidarity for the women who fell victim to anti-feminist, gender-based violence.

Several people who attended the event wore ribbons and gripped candles to honour the victims. Photo: Aaron Hemens/Fulcrum

“Today we are gathered to remember and mourn 14 women who were murdered for these pitiful reasons. I thank you for being here,” said U of O president Jacques Frémont. “I thank you for joining us to remember an event that happened 30 years ago, but continues to offer us important lessons today.”

The university was one of 14 schools across the country to shine a beam of light into the sky from its engineering courtyard to commemorate the 14 victims. The names of the women were also projected onto the exterior wall of the STEM Complex.

The names of the 14 victims were projected onto the wall of the STEM Complex. Photo: Aaron Hemens/Fulcrum

Before the school’s beacon was lit, Fremont invited two women engineering students from the U of O to speak before the crowd, which featured notable guests such as Mayor Jim Watson and Rideau-Vanier Councillor Mathieu Fleury.

Rideau-Vanier Councillor Mathieu Fleury, left, and Mayor Jim Watson, right, were in attendance. Photo: Aaron Hemens/Fulcrum

“They went to classes to learn, just like we do every day, and that simple fact was enough to get them killed,” said Valerie Grant, a first-year electrical engineering student. “It’s heartbreaking to see this happen. We must find a way to stop this from happening again.”

Despite the progress that has been made in terms of having more women studying and working in the engineering field, Grant argued that women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) continue to be “underrepresented, underestimated, and underpowered.”

“We are tired of being held under. We want to be above — where things are happening, growing and changing,” she said. “We are part of the change. We are the generation of STEMinists, who believe in equal opportunity for all those in STEM.”

The 14 light beams, she continued, will “link all of us across Canada.”

First-year electrical engineering student Valerie Grant, right, was invited to speak at the event. Photo: Aaron Hemens/Fulcrum

“We were not alive when this massacre occurred. But we are here now to remember what we have lost and to see what we have gained,” she said.

Carleton University president Benoit-Antoine Bacon was also invited to speak at the podium, moments before the vigil in Montreal was live-streamed and displayed on a giant outdoor screen.

“It’s hard to believe that it’s been 30 years … I remember the day. It’s so important that we all remember the day,” said Bacon. 

In addition to honouring the lives of the victims, Bacon said that we should also remember and acknowledge other forms of gender-based violence that are often unseen.

Carleton University president Benoit-Antoine Bacon said that it’s important to remember the other forms of gender-based violence that are often unseen. Photo: Aaron Hemens/Fulcrum

“I grew up seeing gender-based violence essentially every day in the home that I grew up in. I can still hear the screams,” he said. “ It’s rarely spoken about, but it needs to be said and repeated, and repeated again until it stops.”

Before reciting the words from Mary Oliver’s “The Summer Day” poem, Bacon highlighted that Carleton — like the U of O and other universities across Canada — is committed to maintaining an environment where gender-based violence is not tolerated.

“There’s so much more that can be done in our communities. Dec. 6 is about honouring those who have experienced gender-based violence, but it’s also about taking action,” he said. “Our actions matter. Together, we can continue to build a culture of respect where everyone is included.”